With the start of another school year just around the corner, I’m having a lot of conversations with school leaders about surveys. What surveys should they administer? Who should they survey? When and how?
And while the answer varies from district to district, it always boils down to why. Why should you and other school leaders make surveys and other research methods a key part of your district’s planning?
From ensuring you’re effectively communicating to families to improving overall engagement and trust in your district, there’s more to K-12 education leadership than many people realize.
As we approach the back-to-school season, there are countless pressing issues vying for your attention and, as a school leader, it’s up to you to set the priorities and pace. Survey research is a critical piece of the school leadership puzzle. Below, I’ve created a list of five reasons why surveys need to be a part of your district’s community engagement strategy this school year.
1. Surveys help communicate your district’s values.
Surveys allow key stakeholders — including students, families, teachers, staff and your community — to know what your district values the most. When districts create and send a survey, it clearly communicates what’s top-of-mind for your district.
For example, when your district conducts surveys regarding bullying and equity, it tells your stakeholders you are invested in improving school safety and making your school more inclusive. Rockford Public Schools communicates how much they value their employees by sending out employee engagement surveys — which boosts employee retention and morale and creates a cycle of continuous staff engagement.
By asking for honest feedback from your community, your district shows it cares about the experiences of its students, families and employees.
2. Surveys help you discover insights into how stakeholders feel and what they know.
Surveys provide students, parents and caretakers, teachers and staff, and your community the opportunity to tell you how they feel. Surveys also can help you dive deeper into what stakeholders truly understand about district-related issues such as school funding, learning loss, equity and more.
For example, communities across the United States are vocally expressing their feelings about antiracist instruction in K-12 schools. In addition to garnering data on how people feel about these instructional changes, a survey can help you better evaluate if parents and community members understand what it means to be an antiracist school.
Surveys give you important insights to help you understand where to pivot your school’s efforts to better inform families of what changes mean for your students and district and help move your efforts from talking about the issue to taking action.
3. Surveys show you where you have perception gaps in your district.
Often there are many different perceptions in schools on issues such as safety, culture and effectiveness of programs. Collecting feedback helps you see where there are perception gaps between students, parents and teachers. To make changes that have a positive impact, you need to understand how your decisions are perceived by all stakeholders involved.
We often see a gap between students, parents and teachers in areas such as curriculum, bullying and communication frequency. Identifying these gaps is an essential part of understanding all your stakeholders’ experiences and developing action plans to close the gaps through additional communications, new programs or policy changes.
Frederick County Public Schools found perception gaps through their school quality surveys in areas such as student and academic support, safety and behavior, school quality, and family involvement. This helped shine a light on the areas district leaders could focus on implementing changes to improve overall school quality.
4. Surveys help guide you in making tough decisions.
Your school survey results can include important feedback and data, which can be used to make changes that improve school culture and climate, safety, social-emotional learning, employee retention and engagement, and more. Surveys can even inform decisions related to issues under debate at the national level.
Schools today are receiving countless emails and phone calls about mask requirements this fall. While pediatricians are urging schools to ask their students and teachers to continue to wear masks, lawmakers are still debating mask requirements.
As you plan for the back-to-school season, there are important questions to ask about hot-button issues like mask requirements: How do parents feel about masks? How do those on the frontline — your teachers, school aids, bus drivers and cafeteria staff — feel about masks? Do your stakeholders understand how masks can help protect community members?
Giving people a chance to share their perceptions, understandings and concerns before a tough decision is made will allow you to make fully informed decisions and better communicate the key messages based on your community’s feedback.
5. Turning survey data into action builds trust.
To promote positive school culture, Chelsea School District sent a school quality survey to stakeholders in its Michigan community. The surveys resulted in critical feedback the district turned into a strategic plan, which emphasized the key issues mentioned by community members.
“If we shy away from the data, we disconnect ourselves from our community.”— Dr. Julie Helber, superintendent, Chelsea School District
As the community saw their feedback applied in ways that improved school culture and safety, the district gained trust capital. Allowing their stakeholders to give open-ended responses also increased trust. It shows that their district values transparency and values all their opinions enough to implement change.
When creating school and district improvement plans, every voice matters. And when you make impactful changes in your school district as the result of survey data, it builds trust among your stakeholders.